Trial date set for dispute between Disney, homeowners
By Suzy Valentine
Residents of a western Kendall neighborhood say they hope a conflict with Walt Disney World Co. over home construction will end as soon as September.
The 368 homeowners in Lakes of the Meadow Village have been in litigation for nine years over what they argue is shoddy workmanship by building partnership Disney/Arvida.
A trial date is set for Nov. 14, but the residents have a reserve spot for Sept. 19.
"We're No. 2 on that day," said Charlie Papy of Miami firm Duane Morris, representing the residents. "If the case in front gets canceled, we're on. Otherwise, it will be November."
A pretrial hearing to narrow the scope of the issues is scheduled for Monday.
Lakes of the Meadow residents became suspicious when they learned that Country Walk, another local Disney/Arvida subdivision, was devastated in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.
Engineers identified similar structural problems at Lakes of the Meadows, and litigation began in 1996. Residents are claiming breach of warranty and violation of a Florida statute for non-compliance with the building code.
The units built in the mid-1980s were condemned in 2002 by Miami-Dade County as being unsafe.
"That's independent evidence of the unfitness of the homes," said Mr. Papy, "besides compelling expert testimony.
"This is one of the most ironclad cases I've seen in my 28 years in the law," said Mr. Papy. "There is no question about liability. The issue is damages. Disney has argued that it is bound by the codes in force at the construction date rather than those in effect when the defects were detected."
The defendants made an offer to settle six months ago, Mr. Papy said. "Disney made an offer of judgment for $15 million. It's going to cost upwards of $40 million to rectify the structural problems."
Resident Evilio Pumariega of Puma Consultants Inc., who moved into his home in 1984, said the homes have cause problems for residents.
"The property is condemned," said Mr. Pumariega, "and that means we have to leave every time there is a hurricane warning. For the past 10 years, we have had to vacate every time there's a wave, a depression or a storm between June 1 and Oct. 31."
Living under a specter of structural damage has been stressful, he said. "I can't undertake repairs," said Mr. Pumariega, "and I don't do anything that is permanent because I never know when Mother Nature's wrecking ball is going to come.
"I can't relax by going on vacation because I worry about the house, and I've had cause to cancel a business trip to Switzerland."
Putting the property on the market, he said, is not an option.
"How do you sell at a fair market value under these conditions?" said Mr. Pumariega. "The property is condemned."
Before purchasing his home, he said, the developer's reputation was a selling point.
"This property was sold to us on the basis that this is a Disney community," said Mr. Pumariega. "When we knew we were buying from Disney, we immediately thought that meant quality."